St Mary Magdalene's Church, Gilsland
The building of the church was started in 1851 but it was not consecrated until October 3rd 1854. It was built, at a cost of £800, and partially endowed, by George Gill Mounsey of Castletown, Carlisle, who also erected what is now the Spa Hotel. He used the same architect, Mr James Stewart of Carlisle, for both these buildings. The parish of the new church was carved out of the extensive parish of Lanercost, 18,240 acres being assigned to it. George Mounsey's reasons for building this church and its sister at Nether Denton are set out in his book Gillesland.
The stained glass window behind the altar and the two windows in the west wall were made by Scott of Carlisle. The window above the altar depicts St. .Mary Magdalene, to whom this church is dedicated. She is shown holding a white lily, her emblem. The two west windows show St. Peter and St Paul. All three originally formed panels of one large west window in Rockcliffe church and were brought from there by George Mounsey when the Rockcliffe window was being altered. It is interesting to notice that the Mary Magdalene panel was shorter than the aperture it was fitted into and the extra length had to be filled with plain glass. Above the choir stalls in the south wall are two further stained glass windows. That on the left depicts Jesus, the good shepherd, the other shows the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus.
Windows and Inscriptions in St. Mary Magdalene's
As you walk along the nave towards the chancel, you will see the stone pulpit on the left. This and the font near the door is contemporary with the church. The brass eagle lectern to the right of the pulpit was bought by parishioners of Gilsland and Nether Denton in memory of Adam Wright, Vicar of the parish between 1867 and 1904, and bears an inscription to this effect.
On entering the Chancel you will notice the two-manual organ by Harrison and Harrison of Durham. This was installed in the church in 1901 and cost the princely sum of £172. The carved oak choir stalls together with the prayer desk near the font were made by Mr. James Wilson, a local joiner who lived in Mumps’ Ha’ near the Methodist Chapel in the village. He also carved the oak chancel screen, the top of which was removed in 1958 and now forms the front of the altar.
The oak reredos and panelling are in memory of George Gill Mounsey, founder of the church. A brass plaque in his commemoration can be found on the panelling to the right of the organ. There is a second plaque, nearer the organ, in memory of the former organist and choir master, W.R. Wright, son of the vicar Adam Wright mentioned on the lectern.
The church brass, including the bookstand on the altar, is in memory of Charlton Hall, a past headmaster of Gilsland School, which is a Church of England Foundation school and maintains its close links with the church. The brass cross on the Altar is in memory of Charles Kipling, first vicar of Gilsland from 1854 to 1864. To the right of the altar stands a small credence table, bought in memory of Edward Armstrong, former parishioner of this church who died in 1905.
Continuing down the nave you will see the bell rope near the west wall. The church has one bell made by J. Blaylock in 1852. It bears the inscription: SOLI DEO LAUS HOMINIBUS PAX (Peace to men, praise to God alone).
On the way out you will pass the stone font. This is contemporary with the church but the oak cover with two superimposed brass panels is a memorial to local people who died in the two world wars. During the Second world war, Gilsland Spa was used a maternity home for city mothers who wished to escape the air raids. It was known then (and is still sometimes referred to now) as the Convalescent Home because of its use as a home for miners suffering from lung disease. The register shows a very marked increase in the number of baptisms from the wartime period as well as a large number of recorded still-births. At that time it was not considered necessary to mark the graves of these unfortunate infants but an area of the church yard was put aside for this purpose and is still remembered by parishioners.
Outside the church, supporting the arch of the doorway are two stone corbels. One is the head of Bishop Waldegrave, Bishop of Carlisle at the time of the church’s construction and the other depicts Queen Victoria. Before leaving you are invited to look around the churchyard. On the tombstones you may recognise some of the names you have encountered in this guide. The PCC take great pride in ensuring that the churchyard is kept well maintained as it is visited often by those with loved ones buried here.
At present (October 2006) St Mary Magdalene is part of the united benefice of Lanercost, Walton, Nether Denton and Gilsland, whose Priest-in-Charge is Chris Morris of Lanercost. Pam Swift is Assistant Priest with special responsibility for Gilsland and Nether Denton. The united benefice is within the Brampton Deanery, Rural Dean Colin Randall. Gilsland no longer has a vicarage, as it was sold in 1954. It was the house now known as Roman Way, presently very dilapidated, standing beside the school at the west end of the village. Hadrian’s Wall runs right through the garden.
Link: For some good photographs of the church, see VisitCumbria.com